Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kuyt Gerrard Jovanovic
Unconvincing in the extreme, but once again, we're left thanking Fernando Torres for pulling Liverpool's fat from the fire. Despite a fair bit of dross, it's still three points, Liverpool's first Premiership win under the new manager.
Hodgson reverted to the 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1, a variation of how Liverpool played under Benitez but with the wide players marginally deeper, and West Brom matched Liverpool step for step for long stretches. There was little to choose from between the sides until Torres saved the day. Shock of shocks, the world-class striker was the one who made the difference.
It was Torres who created Liverpool's first chance, in the 3rd minute, attempting to replicate his goal of the season last year only to see the effort easily caught by Carson. It'd take the home side nearly an hour to threaten again, as West Brom broke up any Liverpool foray forward, with yet another team winning the possession battle at Anfield. Albion's holding midfielder Mulumbu and central defender Olsson were fantastic, Lucas and Poulsen were often bypassed (with Poulsen guilty of some shocking giveaways), and there was next to no cohesion in attack. Skrtel was on thin ice throughout the first half, lucky not to concede a penalty for holding on two corners, while Liverpool allowed Morrison and Fortuné a couple of unnecessary opportunities when not closed down.
Liverpool's second-half response was to switch Kuyt and Jovanovic, and the Dutchman did well down the left (while Jovanovic seemed off all game, replaced by Maxi in the 59th minute). Unlike against Arsenal, Rabotnicki, or Trabzonspor, it took time for the team to improve after the interval, but Skrtel nearly scored a wonder goal on the hour mark after Kuyt couldn't scramble in a corner and Poulsen subsequently found the defender at the top of the box, only to see his shot whistle past the top corner.
Five minutes later, hearts were in mouths as West Brom had the best chance of the game so far: Fortuné getting to the byline and centering, with Dorrans unable to connect but the pass reaching Jara. Thankfully, Agger blocked the right-back's first effort and Reina saved the second. But, as we've seen in the past, Reina then started the break that finally saw Liverpool grab the much-needed goal.
A long throw found Kuyt in space, and the Dutchman neatly combined with Torres to create an opening. Checking onto his right foot from the left flank, he delivered an inch-perfect cross for Torres at the top of the box, hitting his volley into the ground but eluding Carson to nestle into net. Torres nearly notched a second minutes later, with Gerrard crossing from the same flank, but Carson stood big to make a point-blank save at the far post.
From there, it was an eventful final ten minutes, with a clear handball blocking Torres' shot ignored by Probert, Albion charging down the field to frighten with yet another effort just wide, and Morrison sent off for a late tackle on Torres in what could only have been a make-up call for denying the spot kick. Despite West Brom down to ten, Liverpool were all hands on deck in the dying seconds, penned back to prevent an equalizer. And, thankfully, they held on for a barely deserved victory.
Three points were crucial, the absolute minimum Liverpool needed to take from this match, and that's what counts. But there are still tons of questions surrounding this side. Once again, the Lucas/Poulsen pairing failed to impress, with Poulsen the far guiltier party. Liverpool struggled to threaten consistently against a promoted side, a team they've scored 16 goals against (compared to West Brom's zero) in the last six meetings, despite being in the comforts of Anfield. Skrtel was shaky and Agger still doesn't look a left back. Konchesky and Meireles both watched from the stands, and the hope is those additions will help Liverpool better reflect Hodgson's plans.
But Reina was Reina, Torres finally got off the mark even though he's still clearly lacking in fitness, and Kuyt was probably man of the match, surprisingly better when moved out left (where he was often deployed in the World Cup). There's clearly room for improvement – and improvement is clearly necessary – but it's a win. A second successive win. We expect, and arguably deserve, better from this group of players, but a new manager has to be given time to implement his ideas.
But instead of increased practice time to implement those ideas, we've another early season international break. Let's hope Liverpool can continue this minuscule momentum when we restart in two weeks' time at Birmingham – a team that was consistently Benitez's bogey side.